FRISCO, Texas – With the 2011-2012 U.S. Soccer Development Academy season approximately a third of the way through and the FC Dallas Academy teams preparing to compete in the 2011 Development Academy Winter Showcase in Sarasota, Fla. this weekend, FCDallas.com recently sat down with FC Dallas Youth Vice President Chris Hayden and Academy Director Oscar Pareja to discuss the importance of high-level competition and the state of the Academy.
In the first of this two-part series, Hayden discusses FC Dallas teams who recently qualified for next April’s Dallas Cup XXXIII, the value of participating in high-profile tournaments like Dallas Cup and more.
FCDallas.com: Several FC Dallas teams have already qualified for the 2012 Dallas Cup. How did each of these teams actually “qualify” for Dallas Cup XXXIII?
Hayden: The Academy teams are automatic qualifiers. The U-16s will play up in the U-17 Division and the U-18s will either play in the U-19 Division or in the Super Group. Our Academy teams have been historically competitive with teams from around the world. Our U-18 team participated in the Super Group last year and won their bracket. They beat Barcelona, CS Cartagines and the Japanese National Team before losing to Tigres in the semifinals.
Our U-14 Pre Academy team had the best record among area Pre Academy teams. By virtue of their record vs. Solar, Andromeda, and the Dallas Texans, they qualified to play up in the Dallas Cup U-15 Division. Our ‘98 Boys Premier will compete in the U-14 Division and our ‘95 Boys Premier will play in the U-17 Division. They both qualified for the tournament this year as a result of their outstanding Fall Classic League results. In addition, our ‘97 Boys Central team is an alternate for the U-15 age group.
FCDallas.com: Last year Scott Dymond’s ‘96s were a last-minute alternate entry that wound up winning the entire competition. What does that say about the quality of FCDY teams?
Hayden: The fact that a last-minute alternate won the whole thing speaks to the overall strength of soccer in Dallas. The fact that they were not automatically qualified through league play but won the National League, the Dallas Cup, and were participants in the National Finals last July speaks volumes about the difficulty of qualifying through the Classic League.
FCDallas.com: How many FC Dallas teams would you like to see competing in Dallas Cup on an annual basis?
Hayden: Last year, we had five teams participate in the tournament and this year we have five who have already qualified and one alternate. We would like to annually have as many FC Dallas Youth teams in Dallas Cup as possible. We want our youth players to experience international competition because the experiences they gain during tournaments of this caliber will stay with them for a lifetime.
FCDallas.com: When will we know if the U-18s will be participating in this year’s Gordon Jago Super Group?
Hayden: The participants should be announced sometime in the spring and we hope our U-18 Academy team will be considered for this year’s Super Group. Some of the most prestigious soccer clubs in the world will be here playing in the Super Group and we hope to be able to measure ourselves against those clubs without having to leave our stadium and complex. These experiences – playing against the world’s best – are vital in the development of each youth player and we seek out games against the best in order to see our deficiencies and improve the overall quality of our players.
FCDallas.com: Last weekend FC Dallas hosted the first-annual Bobby Rhine Fall Invitational presented by Market Street, with the ’00 Boys Premier team winning championship in their age group. What are your thoughts on the news that this tournament could be used as a qualifier for Dallas Cup in the future?
Hayden: We think that the Bobby Rhine Fall Invitational will grow and be a successful tournament for many years to come. Obviously, Bobby meant so much to this organization as a player and more recently as the face of the franchise during his very successful transition into television. We want to honor his legacy by having a meaningful event each fall that is both competitive and relevant, nationally and internationally. We’ve had discussions with Dallas Cup leadership about making this event a qualifying tournament for teams wanting to gain entry into Dallas Cup in the future, but the decision has not yet been made by the Board.
FCDallas.com: What other high-profile tournaments do FC Dallas Youth teams participate in that offer the same level of competition as Dallas Cup?
Hayden: Two years ago our Academy traveled to Holland to play in the Aegon Future Cup, hosted at the Ajax Tekomst training facility where we competed against Barcelona, Bayern Munich and AC Milan. This past March we traveled to Madrid and played friendly matches with Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid and Rayo Vallecano. We have played most of the MLS youth sides over the past few years and traveled to Mexico to play Tigres, Monterrey, and Santos Laguna. Our U-14 Pre Academy has been invited to and will participate in the Mundialito in Bolivia this January to play against many of the best South American and Central American teams. All of these games are necessary to help our teams and players grow.
FCDallas.com: How important is it that our teams participate in high-caliber competitions like Dallas Cup?
Hayden: Our youngest players need to learn to play the game using a technical, creative and attacking-oriented style of play. Between U-7 and U-10, our players are constantly in small-sided games and encouraged to take risks. Through implementation of our curriculum – the FC Dallas Way – we spend a lot of time with our players helping them solve problems on the field through possession and technique.
As our players get older, they need to develop a competitive edge so that their skill and flair is also effective. By U-15 or U-16, we would like our teams to win games, but only if they can do it by playing our style. By U-18, we are confident that our style will produce the results that we want.
We would ultimately want to participate in a mixture of local, national, MLS and international friendlies, as well as competitions like Dallas Cup in order to create the best developmental environment for our players. Dallas Cup is arguably the best and most prestigious youth soccer competition in the world and is important as an experience to help motivate our players to work hard to achieve their goals. It is also a great opportunity for our teams to play against different styles of play without having to travel. We are obviously looking forward to next year’s event.